|Refugee of Ellis Island
Author: Bladina PM
A short oneshot of a lonely girl moving from England to America in 1918 and facing a problem with USA's policy of not letting lonely women in. School assignment for my ESL class.Rated: Fiction K - English - Drama - Words: 1,691 - Published: 01-16-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3092596
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I was clutching my blanket tightly around myself, staring at the majestic sight of the Statue of Liberty, half hidden by the morning fog yet the most beautiful sight I had ever seen in my life. It was worth the freezing wind and the crowd of other immigrants pushing me around to just stand on the deck and stare with a dumb smile on my lips. Finally, after all the hell I had went through in the depths of the ship, my journey was coming to its end.
I cheered with all the others upon passing the majestic statue, tears of joy in my eyes. The dreams of my new, free homeland were vivid in my mind. I was sure I'd be setting my foot on American soil in under a day, and there would be nothing to stop me. For a good while I stayed on the deck, celebrating with all the other passengers, before I started to feel a bit too chilly for comfort. I hurried back inside and danced my way down the stairs. There was still some waiting to do, but it didn't get my spirits down a little bit.
My spirits did get down, though, when I realised that I wouldn't be even seeing the mighty United States for a good few days – at best. There wasn't just some, there was an awful lot of waiting to do: Medical checks for first and second class passengers and after that the long, tiring wait for the ferryboats that would take us to Ellis Island.
I used my time on conversations with other passengers. Some I already knew: A few girls, either such as myself or from good and honest families. A nice young lad with red hair who spoke only French but was always really nice to me. Their stories I had heard already, and thus decided to ask around a little. Maybe someone here would even know what was required to pass the examinations here.
After waiting in the ship for three days and talking to about two dozen people, I found one lady with a beautiful dress and the attitude of a real noble. Her son had moved to the United States a few years back, and now she was following him because his husband had passed away and there was no one left for her back in Scotland. She had heard from a friend of hers, whose daughter got turned back, a little about all the things immigrants were required to go through here.
I listened carefully and asked her a few questions. She gladly answered them all, and in turn asked a little about my family.
When I told her I was traveling alone, she seemed surprised.
"You do know that lonely women get turned back to Europe, don't you?" she asked with a frown on her face. "The officers are afraid the girls would... Face, ah, problems in the New Country."
"You can't be serious", I whispered, horror making its way to my voice as I understood what she had just said. I hadn't thought about the possibility at all - to be forced to leave now that I was so close.
"Are you serious? I will get… Turned back? Oh, no! You have to help me, ma'am, please! I need to get there, to America - I have nothing waiting for me back in England, not even enough money for another trip!"
"I'm sorry, love, but there's nothing I can do", she said with a shake of her head.
I watched her collect her skirt and leave, tears burning in my eyes.
It took some time from me to realise what had to be done. I would need to get a family - even though I had no idea how I could fool the officers. I could maybe pass as someone's niece, or fiancé, or maybe as a maid. But would anyone take a lonely woman such as me? Would they feel pity for me or just take me as a hooker trying to expand her territory to a whole new continent? I decided a backstory was necessary. Who wouldn't feel bad for a girl who left on a ship before her family and is now about to be turned back, to England where there's no one to pay her journey back to her family?
And so I decided to start asking around. Surely there would be someone nice enough to help me. The place was big, after all, with lots of people around – people just as keen to get to America as me. Just a sweet smile and a meek attitude, and I sure would soon have my passport to the country.
It turned out as not all that easy.
"Excuse me, nice to meet you, ma'am..."
"Excuse me, mister. My name is Hattie Renner, mister. My family is coming to America later and..."
"Good evening, mister, may I disturb you for a moment? I..."
"Ma'am, excuse me, please ma'am..."
I asked and asked, but no one would agree to help me. They were too busy, too indifferent, too tired or too afraid to be caught for lying. A woman in a beautiful green dress, a man with three children but no wife anywhere in sight; a young woman, maybe newlywed and a grumpy granny who smelled of elderberries. All of them turned me away. I asked a man in a beautiful brown jacket, too, and when he rejected me after a few moments of thinking, I made my way to a lady dressed in blue and gave the explanations and pleas I had given to everyone else before her.
"Please, ma'am! My family is coming after me and if I have to leave now, I won't have money for another trip! None of us knew a lone woman couldn't make it through the Ellis Island", I whispered with a broken voice. My hands were shaking; I was sure there wasn't much time left before we would have to go through the examinations.
She stared at me for a moment with a slight frown on her face before sighing and shaking her head. My heart skipped a beat and I bit on my lip, as I was sure I'd be rejected once again, but instead of a cold 'no' she gave a small smile and patted my shoulder.
"Poor girl, you are. Very well, you can join our family. You are my maid now; I hired you just before leaving for America because your family didn't have enough money to send you here. You can tell them you don't know nearly anything about us, as the contract will actually start only after we settle down in our new home."
I almost fell on my knees from gratitude and relief alone. She just smiled at my slurred thanks and gestured at a man standing a bit further away.
"I must explain this to my husband. Don't worry, he is a nice man and will sure agree to help you as well."
I stared after her with a dumb grin, hugging my small suitcase tightly. Maybe everything wasn't lost after all.
I was happy beyond imagination when her husband pitied me as well and agreed to the plan. The remaining time in the ship – only a day – we spent carefully planning what I was going to tell about my contract and how my 'employers' had contacted me.
When the day came that we were finally allowed to enter Ellis Island, I found myself extremely nervous with my hands shaking and breath trembling. The whole time in the ferryboat I kept on constantly biting my nails, praying silently that the made-up backstory would pass as true.
I knew already that, after leaving our luggage in the baggage room, the first part would be quick medical checks, so I kept my back straight and steps steady despite the racing of my heart. It was all going to be alright, I told myself. There was a new life waiting for me, and I would make the best of that opportunity. Nothing would stop me now. The gazes of the doctors felt like icy spikes in my back and I wished there was someone whose hand to hold, someone to assure me nothing would go wrong. Someone to make sure I'd be okay in the end.
But sometimes such things just were too much to hope for, and so I carried on with my back straight and head high. No one could accuse me of being a coward; at least that was for sure!
I passed to the registry room with no problem and felt absolutely relieved. I knew there was nothing wrong with me, nothing the doctors could see from my style of walking at least, but fear was an irrelevant emotion after all. It came uncalled and whenever it was needed the least.
The registry room was big. Or actually, the world big didn't sound just right; the place felt gigantic. It was filled with hundreds of people yelling over each other, sitting and standing all around – on the floor, on the benches, on the railings – everyone waiting for the same thing as me.
To set their foot on the ground of the Country of Possibilities.
I felt dizzy. Everything was so different all of the sudden. Spending such a long time in the ship made me feel like I was in the wrong place; that I should be in the ragged, hot and smelly little bed I had had during my journey here. That fresh air and green grass wasn't meant for me after all.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Grace – which was the name of the woman who had so kindly agreed to help me – placed her hand on my shoulder.
"Are you alright? You look a little pale", she said, sounding worried.
I let out a trembling breath before turning to look at her, smiling.
"Don't worry, ma'am."
We were all going to be alright.
And today I would finally step on American soil and be free forever.